Eating Raw Herring

Since living in Holland, I’ve adopted many Dutch traditions. I ride my bike everywhere, my house is always filled with fresh tulips, and on the 15th of October, I bake my own birthday cake. But there’s one tradition I’ve been hesitant to adopt, a right of passage I’ve been unwilling to devour. Eating raw herring.

One of the first Dutch foods I grew to love was smoked mackerel. Serve it at breakfast with a fork and some toast, and you have a delicious, protein filled meal.  I’ve also grown quite fond of hutspot. Sure, you could just eat your potatoes and vegetables without mashing them all together in one pot, but where’s the fun in that?! But the raw herring thing I just can’t get on board with. It’s slippery. It’s traditionally served with onions and pickles (talk about bad breath). And in Holland, there’s no such thing as eating herring with a fork and knife. The Dutch simply cock back their heads and shove the whole, slippery fish down their throats. Gulp.

Where the Americans have cheeseburgers, the Dutch have raw herring, and there are shops and stands all over Amsterdam serving this delicacy. One such shop is across the street from my house, and every morning as I sip my tea and look out the window, I watch a number of brave souls line up to buy their raw fish.

IMG_9101After three years of evading Holland’s ‘national dish’, I decided to take one for the team; so I could share the story of raw herring with you, my readers. I went into the experience skeptical and determined. I would try ONE bite. I would not spit it out. I would chase it with a pickle and some fresh juice from the Albert Cuyp Market, and I would go on with my day. It would be done in a second and it would not taste horrible. It would be bad, but it would be OK. 
IMG_9108We queued up in Volendammer Vishandel with all of the old-school Dutchies. There was fried fish, served hot to order. But most folks went for the raw delicacy, served on a bun with pickles and onions.

IMG_9162I ordered the Malse Haring, sans bun, as advertised out front on a big sign.IMG_9114B wimped out and got fried fish – as you would expect from any good Brit. IMG_9157It was served with a flavored mayonnaise and was absolutely delicious. Based on the fried fish alone, we would definitely eat at Volendammer Vishandel again. How have we live here for three years without trying this delectable fried fish, right across the street?!IMG_9124And then it was time to try the herring. No more stalling. I was served two good-sized slices of herring, chopped into small pieces, along with three sweet pickles, and a big spoonful of chopped onions. IMG_9119I put on a brave face and smiled for the camera.IMG_9126And then I did it. IMG_9128IMG_9140IMG_9134IMG_9147IMG_9149IMG_9151AHHHHHHHH!IMG_9153So, what is the consensus?

I think I’ve lived here for too long. Because I absolutely loved it!

I truly expected to take one bite and then chuck the rest, grossed out and burping up raw fish for the rest of the day. But the herring was tender and soft, and not overly fishy. In fact, it tasted much less fishy than I expected, especially compared to some of the sushi I’ve had in the past. The pickles were sweet and crunchy, and the onions were sweet as well – not too overpowering.

My only complaint is the lack of cutlery – how are you supposed to eat these tiny chopped onions without a fork?! I found myself wedging the onions in between two pieces of fish, and then popping the whole fish-onion taco into my mouth. Not very lady like, but damn good. And yes, I ate the whole thing!

If you want to try raw herring in Amsterdam, you’re in luck, because there are stalls on almost every corner! I highly recommend the shop on my street – it’s not every day you eat raw fish and pickles, so when you do, you want to do it right!

You can find them here:

Eerste van der Helstraat 60
1072 NX Amsterdam
+31 20 6760394

Happy herring-ing!

xo Ali

32 Replies to “Eating Raw Herring”

  1. I so miss herring! i was born in Holland, Amsterdam to be exact, but I have lived in Australia for 30 years, and as the world is getting so much smaller, loads of Dutch delicacies are available here. Herring, isn’t one of them! The fried “kibbeling” is something i haven’t had for a very long time either. The next things you will have to try are the “hommetjes en kuitjes” . Crumbed and fried fish roe. The Dutchies don’t like to waste a thing! Oh, and the big pickles on the markets and Oude Kaas! Might just have to visit soon. Thanks for your blog, I love reading about my old city. x


    1. I’m sure the herring will make it over to Australia eventually! I will definitely try a hommetjes en kuitjes next time – now that I’ve discovered my neighborhood vishandel there’s no going back :)


  2. Good for you! There are a couple of things here in Japan that I’m putting off trying but I WILL try them. Natto being one of them. Fermented, slimy soy beans doesn’t sound good, but it’s supposed to be a super healthy food. My motto is to try everything once.


    1. Ohh gosh the thought of eating natto scares me too! We tricked my sister into trying tripe over Christmas, but we didn’t tell her what it was first! Sometimes you have to eat before you think ;)


      1. haha yes, sometimes not knowing is better. Find out after.

        It can be a bad experience though. I ordered one dish here that looked like a yummy soup and it turned out to be this thick slimy gunk with vegetables cut up in it. It was truly gross. Still no idea what it was.


  3. I thought it was funny that when you were getting ready to eat the herring, it looked like you were eating the head off of that woman in the background! :D Great photo line up, and congrats on conquering a foodie fear :P I have the same problems in Thailand!


  4. My Father has lived in amsterdam for many years and I have always ‘failed’ to take the herring.. after reading your post i am an inch closer… just an inch mind you!!


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